The Washington Post

Back in L.A., Nats’ Gray just looking to move on

- BY JESSE DOUGHERTY

los angeles — A year ago, Josiah Gray could have seen the rest of his baseball life here, with the cotton candy sunsets and thumping bass at Dodger Stadium. He loves the ballpark’s sound system. The weather’s also decent, especially for a New York native who went to college near frigid Syracuse.

But at this level, the sport is all business. Gray, 24 and already traded twice, knows that well. So Tuesday night, he pitched against the Los Angeles Dodgers after debuting for them July 20, 2021. Ten days later, he and catcher Keibert Ruiz were traded in a package for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner.

“It’s a weird feeling but a good feeling,” Gray said Monday from the visitors’ dugout. “Even though my time with the Dodgers was short, there’s a lot of fond memories. It’s where I grew up as a profession­al baseball player. That still means a lot.”

Gray’s team, the last-place Washington Nationals, was trying to win three straight games for only the fourth time this season. It has yet to piece together a four-game winning streak. It is on the verge of selling again at next Tuesday’s trade deadline — and potentiall­y dealing star outfielder Juan Soto if its steep price is met. The Dodgers, by contrast, had taken eight straight before falling to Washington, 4-1, on Monday.

For Gray and Ruiz, that’s the difference 12 months can make.

Gray, though, has something to prove after trying a bit too hard to do that this spring. Back in late May, he faced the Dodgers at Nationals Park and yielded seven runs in three innings on five hits and three homers. Following the lopsided loss, Gray admitted he “let the emotions get ahead of me and didn’t control them from the first pitch on.” He very badly wanted to show the Dodgers what they gave up. In turn, he was done in by Turner — one of the stars for whom he was traded — and a few former teammates.

“I have reflected on that start a bit,” Gray said. “But it was really just a small blip in a long year. It’s out of the way . . . and I’m glad I get to face them again. I think any competitor would be.”

“This go-round, he knows even though he’s in Dodger Stadium, he has to control his emotions and get to the next pitch,” Manager Dave Martinez said Monday. “. . . He’s been good, and he’s been learning. So nothing changes.”

After wilting against the Dodgers, Gray posted a 1.24 ERA in his next five starts, the best stretch of his season. His three afterward, however, were less sharp, amounting to 13 earned runs in 162/ innings. Gray is a flyball

3 pitcher who is susceptibl­e to home runs. The Dodgers’ lineup, tied for the fifth-highest home run rate in the majors and stacked with Turner, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Max Muncy, was a good test.

The righty is at his best when his slider and curve are clicking. And for as much as the Dodgers mash, their on-base-plus-slugging percentage against sliders and curves is around the middle of the pack. Gray needed to give those pitches a chance by getting ahead with well-placed fastballs. Coming out of the all-star break, he’s rounding out the rotation because the Nationals are closely watching his innings.

He entered Tuesday at 92 after throwing 861/ last year (includ

3 ing his time in Class AAA). His career high is 130 across three minor league levels in 2019. Gray, true to form, plans to pitch until the club decides he shouldn’t anymore.

“The math on all of that is so tough: how much should you increase per year, what’s too much, when’s a good time to scale back,” he said. “I know they’ll have their idea of what to do in the coming months, and I’ ll roll with whatever. But of course, everyone wants to keep pitching.”

When he was traded last year, the Dodgers were flying from San Francisco to Phoenix for a series against the Arizona Diamondbac­ks. Gray saw reports of a blockbuste­r deal while in the air and was notified of his inclusion when they landed. That night, he watched his old team face the Diamondbac­ks from the team hotel, thinking how odd it was to be in the same city as the Dodgers but not in the dugout.

This past Sunday, Gray left Phoenix with the Nationals and headed to the city where he pitched just eight innings last summer. The symmetry, however loose, had not crossed his mind until he was asked about it Monday. He has long been trying to move on.

“There are always going to be those connection­s and small things that might make you remember,” Gray said. “But for me, I’m here and have a lot to accomplish with the Washington Nationals. That’s what’s on my mind.”

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